Those of you who know me or have been following my Instagram will know that H is a total sleep thief. She wasn’t off to the best start. We had a number of feeding issues in the first days of her life that meant she lost over 10% of her birth weight. H was a very unsettled baby and for the first few weeks she would cry and squirm constantly, especially throughout the night. We later discovered she has a cows milk protein allergy (CMPA) so had spent those first few weeks of her life in pain. At 3 weeks old the colic started (more on this at a later date!). I believe these factors combined have contributed to her being a terrible sleeper.
For the first 4 months of her life this caused me a ton of stress. Every night I would clock watch, and seeing each sleep stretch last only 1-3 hours (some times less) would make me feel so low. As my mum friends began to glow over their little ones starting to sleep longer and longer, many through the night, my anxiety grew.
It is a very popular topic for new mothers to be asked “how is she/ he sleeping?” by multiple family members, friends, fellow mums, and surprisingly total strangers. My answer of “appallingly” would then be followed at times by a tirade of advice on white noise, sleep aiding toys, perfect temperature, cry it out methods, perfect sleep locations, and weaning. The majority of these had been tried and tested by us to no avail.
Whilst H’s sleep (or lack of) still gets me down, I have come to let a lot of my anxieties go. I believe that some babies are ready to sleep through the night from an early age, whist others can take much longer – and this is okay! Every adult I know has a different sleep pattern, some need 10 hours to function whilst others can manage on significantly less. Pre-baby I needed a good 8 hours, my husband averages about 6, and Margaret Thatcher claimed to have functioned on just 4! Some people get up for a glass of water in the night, others do not. Some go to bed at 9pm, others at midnight. Surely this can mean that, to an extent, babies sleep needs are different too.
Sleeping through the night, in a crib of their own, is a very modern Western concept and whilst it works perfectly for some families I do not see the harm in adopting the sleep values of other cultures. In some countries like Argentina and some parts of Asia it is not uncommon for babies to be routinely put to bed at 10 or 11pm, and in contrast to a Western emphasis on routine, there is much more flexibility. Co-sleeping is another difference; whilst not recommended in the UK until after 6 months due to SIDS risk, other cultures such as Japan co-sleep with their babies sometimes into toddlerhood and beyond. In Western society, especially the US, there is emphasis on sleep training to get babies into routines and sleeping through the night as early as possible, whilst in other parts of the world this is a bizarre notion and babies are expected to have night wakings and never left to cry for even a moment. I must hasten to add however that the latter tends to be cultures whereby childcare is very much shared among extended family members and therefore mums are able to sleep due to this support system and less likely to become “mombies” (a mum who was once able to adequately function but is now some sort of zombie due to sleep deprivation). I do not believe that any of these approaches to sleep are ‘wrong’, I have come to the conclusion that us mamas should roll with whatever works for us and our baby – no judgement!
Sleep deprivation sucks, and if you are reading this as a fellow victim of a sleep thief then my heart goes out to you.
Things will get better.
Hang in there mama, we got this.